TAMPA, Fla. - Back to school shopping can be difficult, but it's even more challenging when times are tough.
"Just the growth spurts and everything like that, they just go through so much," laments Christina Jean. "Financially, it's just been tolling on us," says the Pinellas County mother of three, who is also expecting an additional little girl in the coming months.
Jean is one of thousands of Pinellas County parents that rely on locally-donated clothes and supplies this year to prepare for the Back to School season. For the first time, she is shopping at Clothes to Kids, a non-profit that gives students free outfits for school. Clothes to Kids gives away about 12,000 outfits a year. Students who are already getting discounted or free lunches from their public school automatically qualify for the free clothes from Clothes to Kids.
"We've been on the discounted lunches for a couple years now, which helps out," Jean tells ABC Action News. "They get free breakfast and lunch all year long, and it really does help financially with the cost and everything."
Clothes to Kids has become the go-to resource for back to school clothes for students in Pinellas County. For classroom supplies, many families rely on the Pinellas Education Foundation which, in concert with the PTA, holds school supply drives called "Stuff the Bus."
"The schools are going to take these supplies, and during that first week of school, they're going to give them to the students in need," explains Pinellas Education Foundation spokesperson Tamra Burr. "So parents that have children in need can go to these schools now or during the first week of school and say, 'Look, my child needs extra supplies. If you can help, that would be great,' and then the schools are able to give those supplies we've collected to them."
Last year, people donated enough to the PEF and PTA to fill three school busses worth of supplies for students. There's always need for more donations, though. Approximately 11 percent of families in Pinellas County are at poverty level, and more than 2,110 children are homeless in Pinellas County.
This year, there are two more events where you can drop off supplies at the following locations:
Carillon Park (next to Publix)
Friday, August 5, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
120 Carillon Parkway, St Petersburg, FL 33716
St. Petersburg City Hall
Tuesday, August 9, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
175 5th St N, St Petersburg, FL 33701
The list of supplies being accepted includes almost everything. Here are some examples:
No. 2 pencils
Other counties have similar programs to those in Pinellas County.
In Hillsborough County, you can apply for free and reduced meals HERE.
If you want to donate supplies in Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough Education Foundation has The Teaching Tools Store, which provides free school supplies year-round to economically disadvantaged students attending Hillsborough County Public Schools designated as Title 1.
Also in Hillsborough County is OASIS, which stands for Outreach Assisting Students in Schools. The organization works with 140 social workers in the Hillsborough County School District to provide clothing, shoes, hygiene items and other basic necessities to students in need of assistance.
In Polk County, if a student is homeless, Polk County Public Schools’ Hearth Project can provide assistance with school supplies and uniforms. The telephone number is 863-534-0801.
Also in Polk County, families can contact Heartland for Children for help getting school supplies, clothing, food and medical assistance and more.
In Winter Haven later this month the local organization Heart To Heart Community Enrichment is conducting a back-to-school drives and events, including one on August 13 at Westwood Park in Winter Haven. The event includes free health screening and free backpacks with school supplies for school-age children.
More than 115 schools in Polk County will be participating this coming school year in the Community Eligibility Provision. These public schools provide healthy breakfasts and lunches each day at no charge for ALL students because they are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Students attending these schools do not need a free and reduced price meal application and receive meals at no charge. Check with your school officials to see if they are participating.
For all other schools, the School Nutrition Department offers families the option of applying for free and reduced price meals through an online application, which can be accessed from the Student Nutrition webpage HERE. Paper applications are also available from the School Nutrition Manager at schools for families who do not have Internet access.
In Sarasota, parents who are financially challenged are encouraged to apply for free or reduced-cost lunches. Here is a link to the application. They also have a summer partnership with All Faiths Food Bank and the Sarasota County Libraries to help feed kids during the summer months. Click here for more info.
The biggest program in Pasco County is the United Way "Stuff the Bus" event. Those items go directly to teachers who signed up to receive items.